Tennessee Moves Toward Free Education and Fast Internet

Saturday, February 08, 2014
Governor Bill Haslam makes his pitch to the Tennessee legislature (photo: Mark Zaleski, AP)

With plans to make some forms of higher education tuition-free, on top of already having the fastest Internet service, Tennessee is rebranding itself as a state of innovation and forward thinking.


The Volunteer State created the fastest Internet service in the United States when Chattanooga built “Gig City.” Residents there enjoy Web surfing that’s 50 times quicker than anywhere else in the country, and for less than $70 a month.


The fiber-optic network allows people to download full-length movies in just over half a minute, and has encouraged businesses from other states to relocate to Chattanooga.


“It created a catalytic moment here,” Sheldon Grizzle, founder of the Company Lab, which helps start-up companies, told The New York Times, adding “The Gig” has “allowed us to attract capital and talent into this community that never would have been here otherwise.”


Investing in online infrastructure isn’t the only thing making news in Tennessee.


The state’s governor, Republican Bill Haslam, wants to make all community colleges and trade schools tuition- and fee-free for students, regardless of their academic standing or income level.


If the legislature supports Haslam’s proposal, Tennessee would become the only state in the country to make two-year higher-education free (books not included).


“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” Haslam told the Times. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”


Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of public and private colleges, loves the plan, calling it the “best idea to boost participation in higher education in a generation.”


The proposal would apply to the state’s 13 community colleges as well as its 27 Colleges of Applied Technology, which have a proven track record of graduating students.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Tennessee Governor Urges 2 Free Years of Community College and Technical School (by Richard Pérez-Peña, New York Times)

Fast Internet Is Chattanooga’s New Locomotive (by Edward Wyatt, New York Times)


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